Ritual and Power in Medicine: Questioning Honor Walks in Organ Donation

HEC Forum:1-12 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Honor walks are ceremonies that purportedly honor organ donors as they make their final journey from the ICU to the OR. In this paper, we draw on Ronald Grimes’ work in ritual studies to examine honor walks as ceremonial rituals that display medico-technological power in a symbolic social drama (Grimes, 1982). We argue that while honor walks claim to honor organ donors, ceremonies cannot primarily honor donors, but can only honor donation itself. Honor walks promote the quasi-religious idea of donation as a “good death,” and mask the ambiguity and discomfort inherent in organ donation to promote greater acceptance by the medical community. While some goods may be achieved through honor walks, particularly for donor families, it is still important to examine the negative work done by this practice.

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Jeffrey Bishop
Saint Louis University

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